By Charles B. Bernstein and Stuart L. Cohen
A significant Jewish connection to the Obamas has been found by Charles B. Bernstein, a Chicago attorney, genealogist of the Chicago Jewish community, and a founder of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society.
A minor connection discovered involved the fact that the Obamas’ house, located on the South Side of Chicago at 5046 S. Greenwood Avenue, is located across the street from KAM-Isaiah Israel Congregation, Chicago’s oldest Jewish congregation. The Secret Service agents guarding the house use the facilities at the temple. Greenwood is barricaded at both 51st Street and 50th Street and only residents and temple members are allowed to pass through. Temple members have to identify themselves to the Secret Service agents who then call the temple to verify that the visitors are legitimately there and have temple business.
But research shows a far more significant connection between the Obama house and the Jewish community.
Indeed, the title history of the Obama house shows it has a rich Jewish history, one that encompasses two of Chicago’s rival communities, the Reform Hyde Park German Jews and the Orthodox West Side Russian Jews.
The house was constructed about 1908. In 1919, 5046 Greenwood got its first Jewish owner. Max Goldstine purchased the house along with the vacant lot on the northwest corner of 51st (aka East Hyde Park Boulevard) and Greenwood.
Max Goldstine, an immigrant from Hungary, was a successful Chicago real estate entrepreneur. By today’s standards, he made a pretty good investment, buying the property for approximately $13,750, based upon the $15 worth of revenue stamps on the deed. In those days, real estate transfers were taxed by the federal government at $1.10 per thousand.
Max and Ethel Goldstine sold the property by deed dated April 1, 1926, to Virginia H. Kendall and Elizabeth K. Wild, as joint tenants.
During the Depression years of the 1930s, the property went through mortgage foreclosure proceedings. The Foreman State Trust & Savings Bank was involved in the mid-1930s.
The Hebrew Theological College (HTC), which is now located in Skokie, is an Orthodox rabbinical seminary. It evolved out of several small seminaries and established itself in its present form about 1920. Located on the West Side, its students and supporters were primarily Russian Jewish immigrants and their children.
By the 1940s, a small but dedicated and active group of Orthodox Jews had established itself in Hyde Park. Between 1945 and 1955, several Orthodox and Traditional shuls dotted the Hyde Park landscape, although dwarfed in influence, membership and renown by three large Reform temples, Sinai, KAM and Isaiah-Israel.
HTC, known colloquially as “the Yeshiva,” wanted to establish a South Side base to service this Orthodox community. A Milwaukee philanthropist, Anna Sarah Katz, donated $50,000 to HTC, which enabled it to purchase the 5046 Greenwood property.
The mortgage for the property was signed by Rabbi Oscar Z. Fasman, long time president of the Yeshiva, and Samuel S. Siegel, secretary. A report in the Chicago Tribune on Monday, Sept. 22, 1947, said: “Mrs. Anna Sarah Katz of Milwaukee has purchased a $50,000 plot of land with a building to be contributed to the Hebrew Theological College expansion drive, she announced at a luncheon held yesterday in the college, 3448 Douglas Blvd.”
Hyde Park’s Orthodox population began to dwindle in the early 1950s, and in 1954, the Yeshiva sold the property to the Hyde Park Lutheran Church by a deed signed May 21, 1954. The purchase price was $35,000, based on the revenue stamps of $38.50 affixed to the deed. The deed was signed by Rabbi Fasman, who was still president, and Samuel T. Cohen, secretary.
The sale price was a far cry from $1.6 million, the price the Barack and Michelle Obama paid to purchase the house.
– Chicago Jewish News